“General Justice, he’s the man. If he can’t do it, nobody can.”
It’s a ditty that’s punctuated Jamdown Vershun for years, spoken by the then-six-year-old daughter of its founder - Perth reggae veteran General Justice - who this year clocks up an extraordinary four decades presenting the radio show on RTRFM.
The milestone makes it the longest-running reggae show in the Southern Hemisphere, whose roots can be traced back to a chance meeting between Bob Marley and a 20-year-old General who had blagged his way backstage at a concert.
“I grew up in Chapeltown in Leeds with lots of West Indians. As a kid I really dug music like reggae, ska and rocksteady. But when I arrived in Perth in 1978 there was no reggae here at all,” he said.
“Four or so months later Bob Marley came to town and I couldn’t believe it. I bribed my way in past the groupies and got to meet him. I took him a present and while rolling it told him there was no reggae here.
“He said: ‘Boy, you should become a DJ and play music’. Then I got pushed back outside.”
It was kismet. He took Bob’s blessing and ran with it.
“I knew he was right. Perth is a very much do it yourself place. If you don’t do it yourself it doesn’t happen. So if I didn’t do it, where was I going to hear it?” he said.
Given reggae’s absence in the Australian charts, the General had to plead his case to score a slot on 6USV - Australia’s first reggae show on Perth’s first FM radio station.
“It was an educational station playing classical music only really. They said I had to write a thesis on why we should be playing reggae music, so five or six of us wrote a four-page thing that said there was no black music around so we wanted to educate people about it. We got a three-week trial of what we called Vershun Galore,” he said.
Though his co-presenters dropped off over the years the General held strong until 1990 when the station’s callsign changed to RTRFM and the show was renamed Jamdown Vershun.
Fast forward 40 years from Bob’s blessing and to say General Justice is a man in demand is an understatement to say the least. The reggae figurehead is seemingly indefatigable when it comes to breaking new ground for Perth’s music scene.
His boundless energy and passion for his craft is palpable, and has seen him become great mates with those who meet him, including the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and reggae greats such as Jah Shaka, Mutaburuka, Bushman, Anthony B, Luciano and Gappy Ranks and UB40.
Among his favourite special guests is one of the greatest batsmen of all time - former West Indies cricketer Vivian Richards. The two met when the General DJd at a function while the team were in Perth and have been fast friends ever since.
Richards introduced him to old-school reggae greats such as Bunny Wailer and Dennis Brown during a momentous 1984 trip to Jamaica.
The visit culminated in the one-time documentary maker winning an Australian Hi Fi Award for his World of Reggae Music production, as well as one of his “best moments” when he won a friendly on-air clash against the Caribbean nation’s “king of the airwaves” presenter Barry Gordon and pressed a chart-topping single.
“Barry G asked me to come in and clash with him so we decided to make a tune together. King Tubby was dub master, I wrote it and Dudley Green was singer. It was called ‘Dangerous Times’ and I pressed up 1000 copies on my hand-drawn Corroboree label,” he said.
“Kept it for a week and played track-for-track with Barry G and listeners voted on which DJ played the best set. And I won! We released the track which went to number one for a week in Jamaica and sold out, so I pressed another 3000 copies and split them between Jamaica, the UK and Australia.”
The General’s entrepreneurial spirit kickstarted Jamdown Vershun and it’s his enduring passion along with the combined energies of co-hosts Mumma Trees and Simba who have more than three decades of experience between them that sees the show continue to thrive and evolve today.
“I love working with Mumma Trees and Simba. They’re by far the best dancehall DJs around, whereas I’m the one-drop reggae guy,” the General said.
“RTR is a family affair and on our show we bounce off each other. All of us are really passionate. People think we just turn up, but there is a lot of prep involved. We each spend five to six hours collecting new tunes every week and we go through all the stuff we’ve been listening to together.
“What we all care about is the music. You can’t make money off playing reggae. You have to love it. Like Chronixx says: ‘We do it for the love, we don’t do it for the likes.”
How long can one do it for the love?
“I’m actually thinking of retiring in 2079 because that will be 100 years,” he laughed.
“I’ll stop the minute I lose my passion.”
A century in radio would make General Justice the longest-running presenter in the world. No mean feat.
But if he can’t do it, it’s likely nobody can.
RTRFM are celebrating 40 Years of Jamdown Vershun on November 16 at The Railway Hotel and Port Beach Garden Bar. Headlining will be Jah Fyre, Little Pedro, Weapon Is Sound, The U-Nites, Sunshine Brothers, Razor Jack, Bun Dem DJs, Benn Madz and Kreem, DJ Alpha T and the Jamdown Crew. See rtrfm.com.au for details.
An annual Bob Marley Outernational tribute concert has been held every year since Marley passed away in 1981. The 39th Outernational will be held on February 1, 2020 at the Railway Hotel. Part proceeds go to OXFAM.